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Lesbian PM Or Not, Serbia Blocks Gays' Path To Parenthood

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (file photo)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (file photo)

BELGRADE -- When the gay partner of Serbia's prime minister gave birth to a son in February, reportedly via artificial insemination, it was seen by LGBT rights activists everywhere as a historic milestone.

Not only was Ana Brnabic one of the world's first openly gay heads of government. She became the first prime minister to have a child with a same-sex partner while in office.

But any hope within Serbia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community that Brnabic would expand the rights of other same-sex couples quickly dissipated.

Within a month, Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar imposed a ban against anyone with a "history of homosexual relations during the last five years" from donating "reproductive cells" in Serbia for artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, or even for laboratory tests.

Taken together with Serbia's other laws on marriage and reproductive rights, the decree effectively bans same-sex couples from having children unless – like Brnabic's partner, Milica Djurdjic, had done -- they travel abroad to undergo the necessary medical procedures.

Adoption by same-sex couples in Serbia is banned, although a single person is allowed to adopt regardless of their sexual orientation.

Neither Brnabic nor her office would respond to RFE/RL's questions about the issue or Brnabic's views on whether same-sex marriage or civil partnerships should be recognized in Serbia.

Serbia's Health Ministry has also not responded to numerous queries from RFE/RL about the rationale for its ban.

Dragoslava Barzut, executive director of the Belgrade-based LGBT rights group De Se Zna!, says several nongovernmental organizations in Serbia have now filed formal complaints that call for the ministry's edict to be amended or annulled.

"This bylaw violates the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination as well as the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia" that was adopted in 2006, Barzut told RFE/RL. "It is not in line with other legal documents and other laws. Therefore, it should be revised."

Brankica Jankovic, Serbia's commissioner for the protection of equality, is empowered to issue a legal opinion on whether the groups' complaints of discrimination have merit.

Jankovic has yet to issue her formal conclusions. But she told RFE/RL that the Health Ministry's bylaw "definitely can be seen as controversial and discriminatory."

"Prior to this problem emerging, we weren't able to see the draft of the bylaw," Jankovic told RFE/RL. "There was no obligation for a bylaw to be submitted for our opinion [before it was approved] because bylaws are passed by the minister and he signs it."

If Jankovic formally declares that the bylaw is an act of discrimination, the Health Ministry could be obliged to withdraw or amend the rule within 30 days.

Under Serbian law, Jankovic could force the ministry to publicly apologize to "the victims" of discrimination and to "refrain from giving statements or spreading ideas, attitudes, and information that incite discrimination, hatred, or violence."

Lesbian Leader, 'Homophobic' State

Serbian lawmakers elected Brnabic as prime minister in June 2017, making history by choosing the socially conservative Balkan country's first female prime minister and its first openly gay leader.

She is an ally of Serbia's populist President Aleksandar Vucic, who heads the conservative Serbian Progressive Party and the country's drive to become a member of the European Union.

Political analysts have suggested Vucic handpicked Brnabic as part of a "tactical Europeanization" strategy -- a way to speak to the EU's self-proclaimed LGBT-friendly identity without engaging with LGBT issues domestically.

Analysts also say Brnabic has limited room to maneuver on LGBT issues due to her lack of a power base in a country where homosexuality is often frowned upon and the gay community regularly faces discrimination, harassment, and violence.

But Brnabic's critics in the LGBT community say she has done little to defend or advance gay rights in the country.

Amnesty International in 2014 listed Serbia as a country with a lack of political will to tackle homophobia -- ensuring that same-sex couples do not receive the same legal protections as heterosexual couples.

Same-sex marriages are not legal in Serbia. The 2006 constitution specifically defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and gay civil partnerships are not officially recognized.

Serbian law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace, education, media, and other areas. But LGBT activists say the laws against discrimination are often not enforced.

There are no sperm banks or cryobanks for ova, or eggs, in Serbia. In vitro fertilization is allowed and performed only with registered heterosexual couples using their own genetic material unless they are proven to be infertile.

And under the Health Ministry's bylaw, heterosexual couples also cannot undergo the procedure of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination using a third-party donor who has engaged in homosexual activity during the last five years.

If a same-sex couple in Serbia decides to seek medical treatment abroad to have children, as Brnabic and her partner did, the state doesn't recognize them both as parents.

Only the biological mother has legal rights in such cases.

Even with those legal limitations on Brnabic's own legal rights as a parent with her same-sex partner, LGBT activists in Serbia say Brnabic is in a privileged position.

They say she has the financial means to become a parent and is in a position of power that protects her from the problems that others in Serbia's LGBT community face.

Written and reported by Ron Synovitz in Prague with additional reporting from Belgrade by Gordana Cosic